Baraboo High School boys swimming has a new head coach, but that doesn’t mean anything will change.
The T-Birds said goodbye to Heather Frank, who had four successful seasons with the team and stepped down to pursue other passions. Now in the driver’s seat is Chris Lemke, who looks to maintain the T-Birds’ prosperous traditions.
“I’m very excited, very anxious,” Lemke said. “Coaching with Heather, she was an awesome coach to work with. I really hope to carry on the same traditions her and I came in (with) four years ago. Specifically, putting the team first, (having) quality kids. We talk about character, we talk about integrity, teamwork and hard work. Those are our core values that we will continue on with.”
Lemke has worked as an assistant coach for Baraboo’s boys and girls teams since 2012. While he didn’t swim in his school days, Lemke has competed in several triathlons, including three Ironman events. Lemke is joined by two new assistant coaches, Tyler Evans and Nick Lemke, Chris’ son. Both have swimming backgrounds — Evans swam for Sauk Prairie High School and UW-Green Bay, while Lemke swam for Baraboo, graduating in 2013.
Both have coaching experience; Nick’s involves working with the Baraboo summer program.
“He knows a lot of these kids, he’s been coaching the Riptide so it’s been nice having him,” Lemke said of his son. “And Tyler coached USA swimming, so he had a little exposure to some of these guys too.”
The three will have their work cut out for them this winter, as Baraboo only has 14 swimmers. The Thunderbirds graduated a stellar senior class, as the team lost Noah Larson, Macalister Deyo, Noah Reppen, Rowan School, Paul Hainz and Garett Goerks. Larson, one of three of those athletes to compete at the WIAA state meet, was the state runner-up in the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle as a senior, a year after winning gold in both events.
“We lost some of our sprinters from last year, especially with Noah,” Chris Lemke said. “We’ve got to find those sprinting spots. We actually have built our breaststrokers and backstrokers and butterflyers with this group coming in, but we have to find our sprinters again.”
Lemke said Larson left a lasting impression on the team.
“They take a look at the record board; they’ve seen what he’s done in past meets,” Lemke said. “The speed, work ethic, the commitment and the ability to just sheer compete definitely had an impact on these guys. Even with the freshmen, they know who he was and what kind of work ethic he had and that drive to compete.”
Baraboo returns three senior captains in Jasper Swallen, Nash Brickl and Mitch Hoppe. Swallen competed in the 200-yard medley relay at state last season.
“Really good all-around swimmer; we can put him in a lot of places,” Lemke said. “We’re really looking for him to compete in the 500 and the 200 (free).”
Brickl will primarily swim the butterfly, as will Hoppe, who will also give the backstroke a whirl.
“They are three good seniors with good leadership experience,” Lemke said. “We’re going to rely on them heavily, especially since we’re such a young team this year.”
Josh Hackbarth is the team’s lone junior, and returns state experience as well after qualifying in the 200 free, 200 free relay and 400 free relay last year.
“We’re looking for him to replicate that. He’s coming in really strong, had a good fall season in football,” Lemke said.
Baraboo’s team will primarily be composed of underclassmen, with five sophomores and five freshmen. The top returning sophomore is Aidan Lohr, who qualified for state as a freshman in the 200 medley relay, 200 IM, 100 back and the 400 free relay. Other sophomores include sprinter Ben Beal, Noah Tiber, Joseph Coleman and long-distance swimmer Jacob Lemke.
Five strong freshmen join the mix, all of whom have competed with the Baraboo Riptide summer swim team since they were 8 years old. Lemke admits a lack of depth will lead to some struggles this season, but will force the team to compete at their best in each and every event.
“We’re so young,” he said. “We definitely want to come in and compete in individual races. Some of the bigger events as a team, we probably won’t be quite big enough. But we want to have impact and make other teams work for their placements.”
Baraboo will kick off the season today when it travels to Sun Prairie for a star-studded invitational, with defending Division 2 state champs Monona Grove in attendance.
“We’re definitely going to be tested,” Lemke said. “We’re going to look at each individual race specifically, and swim our best in those races. And then we’re going to find that pace of each race that we need to improve on.”